Amazon Is Suddenly One of Minnesota's Biggest Employers

We didn’t get HQ2. (Was it even a thing?) But Amazon is taking over Minnesota, somehow among our 50 biggest employers—and still growing.

Photo by Christian Wiediger/Unsplash

It wasn’t long ago that Amazon in Minnesota was bound to the cloud—widely used online, nonexistent on the ground.

Since first taking root in the Twin Cities metro four years ago, however, the tech giant’s physical business presence has grown at a remarkable pace.

With approximately 3,000 full-time employees spread across its fulfillment center, sortation facilities, Prime Now hubs, and technology office, Amazon counts itself among Minnesota’s 50 largest employers—on par with state stalwarts such as Securian Financial Group, supermarket operator Jerry’s Enterprises, and Ecolab.

And all indications point to further expansion.

How Did Amazon Establish Itself So Quickly?

The entry point was a sortation center in Shakopee, a 150,000-square-foot facility and the final step for packages, opening in August 2015 and allowing for improved speed and Sunday delivery.

The sortation center was quickly followed the next year by a larger fulfillment center in northern Shakopee. It’s the company’s largest single entity in the state—an 850,000-square-foot warehouse where employees work alongside simple robots to pick, pack, and ship items. Amazon says it operates 75 such facilities across the U.S.

Together, the Shakopee sortation and fulfillment centers now employ about 2,000 people, according to Jonathan Lyksett, communications specialist for the City of Shakopee. Roughly one-fifth of those workers come from Scott County, which includes Shakopee and the surrounding area. The rest commute from elsewhere in the metro.

More Pins in Amazon’s Ever-Expanding Map

In 2017, the company opened a technology office in the North Loop neighborhood of downtown Minneapolis. Amazon leases about 90,000 square feet over three floors of the modern lumber T3 building, according to the property’s owner. Workers there—about 150—focus on transportation and delivery technology as well as cloud computing, according to Amazon spokesperson Alyssa Tran.

The North Loop office is one of just 17 tech hubs Amazon operates outside Seattle, and it seems poised to remain. Amazon’s lease for the Minneapolis space is described as “long-term,” and the company recently announced plans to add about 200 more employees to the team there.

Minneapolis is also home to a Prime Now hub in the Como neighborhood. It fulfills those two-hours-or-less, limited-selection orders. And in Eagan, Amazon operates a delivery station, one that came under fire by employees last summer following complaints about unsafe working conditions and a lack of private prayer space. (At the time, Amazon denied the claims while promising a permanent prayer room.)

And in November, the New York Times ran a story heralding the delivery station’s largely Somali workforce as the first group in the U.S. to successfully pressure Amazon management into negotiations.

All told, Amazon says it has created more than 3,000 full-time jobs in Minnesota, a figure that would make the company at least the 49th-largest employer in the state, according to figures published by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

That figure does not include part-time employees, the delivery drivers rolling through the streets each day, or the seven Amazon-owned Whole Foods in the state.

More Growth Coming in Minnesota (Just Not HQ2)

The company passed over the Twin Cities in its search for a second HQ. That project would have transformed the landscape both literally, with the creation of a million-square-foot office center, and figuratively, with the region immediately becoming an international destination for top-flight tech talent.

Still, another sortation center opened in Brooklyn Park in fall 2018, and according to the city’s planning director, Cindy Sherman, it will employ about 350 part-timers.

Brooklyn Park is also working with Scannell Properties and a mystery Fortune 500 company on a massive, mysterious development proposal dubbed “Operation Hotdish.” It promises the construction of a 2.6-million-square-foot warehouse in an open field along Highway 169. The city will not comment on the possible tenant, but some residents suggest it has Amazon’s fingerprints.

Operation Hotdish has faced opposition from the city’s planning commission, MPR reported, so its future isn’t certain. But if it moves forward and is indeed Amazon’s doing, the company would add another 2,000-plus employees to its Minnesota ranks.

That would push Amazon up the largest-employers list to around 33rd overall—well past Minnesota staples such as General Mills and Andersen Corps, and into the same realm as companies including Cargill, Ameriprise, and Children’s Hospital.

Based on Amazon’s past three years, you can bet even that wouldn’t be the end of it.